1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: German
  4. >
  5. Confused! Purpose of Duolingo…


Confused! Purpose of Duolingo / quality of the lessons

Hi, I started using DL today, so please excuse my general lack of knowledge. The app doesn't do much to explain itself, I was surprised I had to google things like how the tree works and what crowns are for etc.

On to my point - I intended to use DL as a refresher for my vanishing prowess in German. I did not really have any expectation, I just found the most mentioned free language app for Android and went to see what it does. On the surface, it seemed impressive. But...

For starters, it seems I have to slog through a lot of very basic things like "I am a boy" and "this is a ball", even though I have near flawlessly taken the intro test and all the shortcuts to unlock the lessons. There seems to be no further way to get to more demanding lessons and I feel I'm wasting my time with a success rate of 95% on trivial stuff. Am I missing something obvious or is the app not suited for my intentions?

Somewhat unrelated, I feel like sometimes my English skills are being tested rather than the German ones. For example: Which of these is "english word", followed by a german word-picture pair. What is the purpose of this? This actually requires you to know the word in English and not care about German, just find the picture. I would have expected it the other way around - so that you actually have to think about the answer and not just go by the picture (can I disable them?). Another example: Oftentimes the app asks me to translate from german and gives me a jumble of English words to order. Why? This again feels like an English course as much as a German one. Wouldn't it make more sense the other way, i.e. test the ability to correctly construct a meaningful German sentence? I have encountered such tasks only in the checkpoints so far.

And my final point of confusion is how is the app actually intended to further the studies of a foreign language? In the German case, I have so far seen no explanations for anything grammar related. Is it based only on mechanical memorization? I think this may even lead to confusion for some people, especially with the pair-matching exercise, which seems to take liberties a lot of the time by making pairs of ENG-GER words that only work in very specific circumstances. Or they omit meaning, like pair of dem-the, which in reality is more like dem-(to) the. I don't feel like this is helping someone learn from scratch.

So, what exactly are the use-cases of DuoLingo?

April 4, 2018



It only throws out single sentences and expects them parroted back. It's a drill of sorts, but there's no presentation. If you are looking for anything remotely communicative, I'm afraid you need to look elsewhere.

What you describe with being asked to produce English where there is no text to be translated shouldn't be happening. That's some sort of technical glitch.


I suppose I expected a modern language app in 2018 to actually attempt to teach the language - sentence structure and grammatical rules included. If this is just a simple word repetition app (albeit with a depth of content), I am disappointed, but shall adjust my further expectations accordingly.


Once you get beyond the basic levels, more complex grammar is introduced but the main format of the app remains "translate this sentence". You may find that more challenging, and can certainly use the sentence discussion pages to get a 'depth' of understanding through reading and offering explanations. Many helpful links are shared in the discussions, making them a great jumping-off point for finding other resources.

But yes, there will come a point in your learning where Duolingo's free offering doesn't push you forward as much anymore. Then you'll probably need to consider investing more time and money elsewhere if you really want to learn the language.


Duolingo is meant to be used to teach someone a language from scratch. It's not that useful if you already know the language and are trying to refresh your memory with the placement test. It's for true beginners, and it works in much of the same sense as Rosetta Stone.

In many of these aspects I believe you are overthinking it. It asks to translate and gives you pre-made options to make it easier for the user to remember vocabulary.

Duo goes way more in depth in teaching a language, and I believe you're not really getting it as you haven't gotten too deep in it. I'd suggest trying on a new language and going deeper into the language tree, if you wish to understand the use for Duolingo.


Actually I have used Duolingo to learn (the rudiments of) a language from scratch, and also to remember the languages that I "learned" decades ago. For the latter, the placement test successfully saved me from delving through the really basic stuff; it usually placed me in mid-tree, so that I quickly found myself challenged.


I suspect the placement test needs reworking in regards to the crowns. I unlocked most of the tree, but everything is only at level 1 and any unlocked exercise still seems basic.


If the basic exercises are trivial for you, I recommend jumping into the discussion pages. Test your understanding by writing clear, concise explanations to any outstanding questions or correcting any errors.


Thanks for the tip. Is this section available on the mobile app as well?


The web version has grammar explanations and more challenging exercises.

You can test out of sections of the tree or individual skills if your placement test didn't put you high enough. Try to test out of sections until you can't anymore.

Most people use Duolingo to: See if they like a language, learn the basic words and grammar structures, and practice the basics until they are ready to move on to more challenging material (or for some users another language).


i agree. If you are really advanced you can test out of 10 or 20 lessons in an hour and really move ahead. It is only getting annoying for me that DUO keeps asking me the same word in one review session (3 or 4 times in a row, which I don't understand at all).


I get the repeated-word thing a lot, also. Makes no sense. I can see the value of choosing things randomly, but this specific case (don't present the exact same test twice in a row) should be really easy to prevent.


Duo is a great way to motivate language learning and pick up basic vocab, but it should be complimented with other language sources as well (i.e. books, podcasts etc)


I totally agree with Kraemet. I'm a beginner of German, and also feel that DL is teaching me English, not German.


It starts out feeling that way but as you progress you get more and more exercises translating to German instead of from it.


I also find myself asking where Duo gets it's sentences from? Many of them feel like they're snippets from forums. I now know how to say "Students are also human" and "Bear against Horse"; the latter must surely be a clickbait YT video title of the type "cheetah wrestles python".


My current favorite is "Hilfe! Das Pferd isst die Heilige Kartoffeln!"

I'm not sure how that sentence is useful for anyone learning through simple memorization, but it made me laugh out loud.


I needed those basics that you described, so please remember that not everyone is at the same starting point.

If you are advanced in German perhaps you should try the reverse tree - Learn English from German. I understand that it is a more challenging way to go and you'll be translating more English into German. I plan to do the reverse tree next.

Otherwise, perhaps you should just move on to other sources. I have learned a lot using Duolingo and I think since it doesn't meet your expectations of how you want to learn, it might be best to try something else.


I'm not saying those basics shouldn't be there, I just wanted to know if there's an option to skip forward for those who already have some knowledge and feel bored by the simplicity.

Personally, the ideal way for me would be for the app to throw the hardest stuff it has at me and I could work backwards from that until I found a manageable level. That way I could quickly figure out if my skill level is already too high for the entire course.


OK - gotcha. I thought there was a testing out function - so maybe it could be enhanced if you didn't feel it didn't work.

Just another perspective, but if I was thrown the hardest stuff first, I would quit.

I do think it is likely that your skill level is too high for the course. The good news is the site is free, so all you've spent is your time.


I started Duolingo a long time ago and mainly use the Web interface because it is more challenging and also the reverse tree (in my case English from Spanish) because again I find this more challenging. I agree with your points about the pictures, particularly on the app unless you are in the basic stage of learning they are of no help, however having said that quite often the pictures they use are so bad that they could mislead you, in any case I am a word person myself. I always change the icon views on my computers to lists as I find words much more concise than pictures. I think once you have got to a certain level, (with or without a placement test) the pictures should not be used at all. I have also found that the new "crown" format which is being used on all new accounts is very "dumbed down" on the skill level 0 to 1, which you will be obliged to use throughout the whole tree to unlock it, and level 1 to 2 is not much better. I prefer my fully golden tree which I have worked hard at and general strengthening exercises everyday which give me a good selection of challenging sentences. When I started Duolingo I already had a secondary school Spanish qualification and a good but rusty Spanish vocabulary and found it very helpful. I started a new account in January to test the new crown system and the extended Spanish tree and found like you that I had to slog through basic lessons even after having taken the placement test, that I bypassed on the old system with that one's placement test. However, once you get to level one on a skill you can move through the tree to the next skill. I think it is as well to test out. Then move on totally from those skills to the next skills and only concentrate on taking those next skills through to the higher levels.


One other note on the pictures (which I find useless as well) is that they become much less common as you get deeper into the course. I'm halfway through the German tree and almost never see the pictures unless I'm reviewing old material.


In addition to what the others have said, there used to be an option to "test out" of a skill that you think you know. So, you could do just one test (without hints), instead of passing 3-9 levels of learning with hints. The crowns are completely new (personally, I encountered them today), and the test out option seems to be gone.


You've hit on two of my biggest pet peeves with DL: a creative education in grammar and the second class status of the mobile apps. As people point out in this discussion, most of the sections have charts and text that rely on practical explanations of grammar, but only on the web. While I'm glad they're there, and fairly thorough, you're basically reading a text book. Which is not why anyone came to a web- or app- based learning tool in the first place.

Furthermore, they don't exist in the apps. Which is frustrating on two more levels: if you spend most of your time on the mobile apps, you're basically at sea for grammar rules and because this is German, well that's just confounding.

So when DL tries to teach grammatical nuance, or even colloquialisms, it comes across as a zinger. The algorithm (which already is pretty suspect with what seems like a random assembling of nouns and verbs) will throw something at you from left field and before you know it you've lost a heart (which for no apparent reason only exist on the apps).

You've come at an interesting time though, with this totally new structure of crowns. It should be more thorough. But to brush up on your German, rather than learn it from scratch, maybe the News in Slow German or the Coffee Break series or other YouTube channels is the way to go.

Good luck

Learn German in just 5 minutes a day. For free.